Jon Bernthal’s entrance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Daredevil’s sophomore season gave a lot of people the Frank Castle for whom they had been longing. His performance, especially in the season’s first four episodes, was brilliant and scene stealing. Bernthal, who has spoken in depth about the lengths he went to step into the role of the Punisher, was fully immersed in his world and embodied the type of pained loss that a real-life Castle would have. While the reviews have been somewhat mixed for Daredevil Season 2, the negative criticism of Bernthal’s Castle has been minimal. Making it safe to say that fans of the character, as well as fans of the Netflix corner of the MCU, want more of the character and, despite Jeph Loeb tiptoeing around the subject, it seems increasingly likely that we will see the Punisher again sometime. I’m guessing that when Castle said, “See ya around, Red” it was directed as much to fans as to Daredevil. That was not the last time we’ll see Frank Castle and given the enormity of the fan response to Bernthal and the success of the first phase of Netflix series, it’s reasonable to assume we might see a Punisher solo series before long.
Given the vast history of the character and the number of writers who have taken a turn at writing the Punisher, it’s no simple task to nail down exactly what to expect from a Castle-centric series, but if we take some hints from what we have seen so far and make some deductions based on what we know about the type of series Netflix likes to make, we can start to put together a reasonable idea of what influences will shape Season 1 of The Punisher.
A first season of the Punisher is likely to fill in a lot of the gaps in the story of Frank Castle. When Frank comes to Hell’s Kitchen in Daredevil, the exposition of who he is and why he’s doing what he is doing is told not shown. When we are given the story of how his family was murdered, Bernthal’s incredible performance provides the audience with raw emotion and an incredible understanding of how this man came to be where he is. His description of his daughter’s death (“meat was spilling out of her, Red, from where her face used to be…”) was disturbingly strong, perhaps stronger even than having seen it through flashbacks, because Bernthal sold us on the horrible idea of being a father holding what’s left of your little girl in your arms. The description is reminiscent of the story Frank Castle tells of his last day with his family in Garth Ennis’ In the Beginning arc, part of his 2004 Punisher MAX series. In that story, Castle describes his daughter’s reaction to having been shot:
“I hit the ground beside my daughter. She’d been gutshot, badly, and when she saw the things that boiled and wriggled from her belly the expression on her face was not a little girl’s.”
Given that the death of Frank’s family, in this continuity on the day he came home, creates the Punisher, this certainly isn’t the last we’ll hear about it; however, in some ways I truly hope we don’t have to see it but continue to relive it through Bernthal. Given Marvel’s propensity for flashbacks in these Netflix series, the murder of the Castle family is one we can live without; however, some other flashbacks might serve the audience a little better. Frank Castle’s time as a Marine provided him with the capability of coming back to Hell’s Kitchen and taking on the criminal element. While the timeline has shifted and Bernthal’s Punisher is now a veteran who served in Afghanistan instead of Vietnam, his heroics on the battlefield of the Hindu Kush ring true to his origin story as told in Punisher: Born, another great Frank Castle story by Garth Ennis. To be clear, there are parts of Punisher: Born that are disturbing and savage, but that carve out, in clear, graphic detail, the code by which Frank Castle operates and just exactly what made him the military legend he was. Punisher: Born, in all its grisly glory, may be the best way to show the audience the Punisher’s past and the seeds for it were sown in Daredevil.
Punisher: Born, adapted into the series via flashbacks, will show the audience that while Frank Castle became the Punisher when his family died, he’s always been a man capable of and willing to kill and that if you fall on the wrong side of his line, he pulls the trigger. In many ways, Frank’s dealings with the pawn shop owner in Daredevil connected with the mentality Frank displays in Born, and seeing it on screen will continue to do what Bernthal says is his goal in this role: to alienate the audience even further and then bring them back to his side. If Bernthal is looking for a “raw and intense” Punisher, he’ll find him in Born (and I’m guessing he already has).
If it seems like I’m fixating on Ennis’ work, it’s because I am. Frank’s intro into Hell’s Kitchen took from Ennis’ Kitchen Irish arc and the shadowy dealings of the crime bosses in Hell’s Kitchen are ever present in all of Ennis’ work on Punisher. Frank has taken his revenge on the Irish, the Dogs of Hell and the cartel, but there’s not a shortage of scumbags for Frank to target in Hell’s Kitchen, some of whom we may have already met, and it’s important to remember that Frank is just getting started. Given what we’ve seen from Frank and what we know about Hell’s Kitchen, it’s worth wondering who might come across the barrel of Frank’s gun next season (especially now that he found that sweet armory on the Colonel’s property).
Speaking of the Colonel, his speech about Frank’s involvement in Kandahar seemed to open a door to an even bigger governmental conspiracy surrounding the death of Frank’s family and seemed to spur his return home to claim his MICRO disc, so maybe part of a Punisher solo series explores just what exactly happened over there that the Colonel tells Frank “they” will never let go. Whatever MICRO is, it’s likely a big part of why the government is after Frank and it’s likely to be a part of the first solo season of The Punisher.
Of course the name MICRO brings to mind one of the longtime secondary characters of The Punisher, David “Microchip” Lieberman. While he’s mostly served as an ally to Frank, he, like many others, found himself on the other end of Frank’s gun after crossing his friend. Interestingly, Micro’s end in Ennis’ Punisher MAX series came after Frank found out that Micro was part of an CIA operation that was funded by running drugs and arms out of Afghanistan, something that could neatly tie into the bread crumbs about Castle’s military service.
Given the way Netflix has set up their shows, however, Frank’s battle against his own government would likely be just one of several stories weaving together throughout the series. That leaves room for Frank to run across any number of scumbags and really begin his vigilante assault on organized crime. If a Punisher solo series continued taking cues from the work of Garth Ennis much as Daredevil has from Frank Miller, among others, one subplot that could be explored has already been seen in Daredevil’s first season and would fall right in line with Frank’s abrupt turn about to beat down the pawn shop owner in season 2: The Slavers.
The Slavers sees Frank stumble onto a prostitution ring in New York in which young women are kidnapped, raped and beaten until they are broken and become sex slaves. Given that we’ve already seen Russians kidnapping children in Hell’s Kitchen, it’s been established that this type of criminal is already operating in NYC. Notorious for it’s brutality, Ennis’ 7-issue arc sees Castle take on ruthless Romanian’s Vera Konstantin, her lover Cristu Bulat and his father Tiberius Bulat. The arc shows the side of Frank that would make most people cringe, but would fit perfectly with what we know about Bernthal’s Castle. After killing most of what existed of those connected to the ring, Castle confronts Konstantin and delivers what can only be described as a shockingly brutal beating to the woman whose “rape them to break them” motto drove the prostitution ring before throwing her out a window and thinking to himself “it had been a long long time since I hated anyone the way I hated them.” While it’s a given that Frank is going to beat up and kill some low-level goons, this is the kind of story that would show the moral ambiguity that Frank has and the grey area in which he operates. He’s going to stop a brutal prostitution ring, but he’s going to kill everyone involved to do so.
While Frank took on several different gangs in Daredevil, we didn’t see him come into contact with anyone from what’s been perhaps his favorite target over the years: the Maggia. The Maggia is Marvel Comics’ version of the Maffia and includes dozens of crime bosses and their criminal families. Different writers have had Frank take on different bosses and sometimes wipe out hundreds of their people at a time in the type of murderous spectacle that fans of The Punisher have come to expect. Of all the Maggia-related foes that the Punisher has faced, two of them might be perfect for the type of brutality Castle can dish out on Netflix: The Punisher’s arch-villain, Billy “Jigsaw” Russo and crazy ass Ma Gnucci.
Either of these two subplots could be easily adapted into a solo series and would give the MCU a chance to do a little better with two of Castle’s most iconic foes. Jigsaw is arguably the most well-known Punisher villain and has Frank to thank for his fancy new face. In the comics, Russo is associated with the men that kill Castle’s family and is hired to take care of Castle. Needless to say, he fails and, for his efforts, is thrown through a window by Frank, shredding his once handsome visage and turning him into something resembling a bag of crushed butt-holes. Like Kingpin and Daredevil, Jigsaw and The Punisher are fated to do battle for years, so introducing him here and telling us his origin might be just enough story to get us started.
Frank taking out Ma Gnucci’s family in his war on scum would likely result in the introduction of one of Castle’s most formidable foes: The Russian. Fans of the Thomas Jane Punisher film likely remember Kevin Nash‘s monstrous Russian from the crazy fight that sprawled across Castle’s entire apartment complex. That version of the Russian was a decent facsimile of the comic book character, but having him appear over several episodes of a series would give us time to appreciate the inherent weirdness of the Russian…maybe we’d even find out he started a Daredevil fan-club on Facebook.
With a character that has a back catalog as dense as Frank Castle’s, there are countless stories to be told and these are but a few. These stories represent ones best told as Frank is just beginning his career as The Punisher and cutting a path through the underworld of New York. Many other stories, including the recent wonderful run by Nathan Edmonson deserve to be told, but seem to fit in further down the road when there’s a more established, veteran Punisher on the streets. For now, establishing his backstory through further exposition, cleaning up some of these military mysteries and giving him someone to hate seems right and seems to be about what we can expect from a Punisher solo series, if and when one is announced.